History of Clearwater Beach
It is true that Clearwater Beach is known for its pristine white sand beaches but what most tourists tend to overlook is the fact that this resort community also has some interesting history to explain its present-day character.
Today Clearwater is undergoing developments. Condominium buildings, high-end resorts and commercial establishments are sprawling by the hour that it is hard to find any historical landmark in the city until you reach the northernmost of Mandalay Avenue where 1920s and 1930s beach cottages and other vintage motels are located.
Remnants of Old Clearwater Beach
But those are mere remnants of a forgotten era. As the modernization of the city continues, most historical structures are demolished. Even the oldest home on the island, a Victorian owned by the Bayly family, known to residents as the Sandsfoot Cottage no longer exists. Not to mention, the Roux House which was later on renamed as Clearwater Beach Hotel is already replaced with a modern establishment, the Sandpearl Resort.
Good thing that a lot of vintage cottages still remain and can be seen along the Mandalay Avenue towards the North Beach Section. The Carlouel cottage on Eldorado Avenue is still there although functioning now as an exclusive yacht and tennis club. What is formerly a beach pavilion, Palm Pavilion, the oldest in Florida, is now a bar and restaurant famous among tourists and locals.
Those establishments back-track the history of Clearwater Beach as a tourist destination in the early 1900s but earlier than that, Clearwater, Florida was already a place where people chose to retire most likely because of its attractive climate.
History of Clearwater, Florida
Native Americans lived in Clearwater when the Spanish occupied Florida in 1822. Colonists began settling in the area in the 1830s. The first settler was known to be Conte Odet Phillippe, a French doctor who was the chief surgeon of Napoleon Bonaperte’s navy. Phillippe established a citrus plantation in the area. The St. Helena Plantation was located in what is Safety Harbor today. In fact, citrus trees are still seen in the area now known as the Phillippe Park.
Clearwater was also the perfect location for a recuperation center during the Seminole Indian Wars in 1835. The new government built Fort Harrison on the bluffs now known as Harbor Oaks. That time, downtown Clearwater is already called the Clear Water Harbor.
During the war, the Federal Armed Occupation Act of 1842 awarded 160 acres of land in Clearwater to families who are willing to send the head of the family or any man over the age of 18 to bear arms. The new settlers cultivated vegetables and cotton.
It was only until 1888 when Clear Water Harbor began developing as a destination resort community. That time, there were only 18 families or around 400 residents in Clearwater, Florida. Then came Florida’s most successful developer of the time, Henry Plant, who was building a standard gauge railroad that passed through the Pinellas County. Plant needed more passengers in the area so he ventured into building resort hotels, the first of which is the Belleview Biltmore which started its operation in 1897.
In 1895, Clear Water Harbor became Clearwater and as more and more resorts and establishments were built due to the influx of tourists, the population grew.
Clearwater Beach formerly known as Tate’s Island
Now for those who are new to Clearwater, this is the part where we have to clarify the distinction between Clearwater, Florida, the seat of the Pinellas County, and Clearwater Beach, which is just one of the many beach fronts in Clearwater. Clearwater Beach, in fact, is an island. The first known settlers to the island were Prudence Chafer who owned the south end, and Patrick Houston who owned the north. The whole island was then sold to Ernest Tate in 1897 for $200. He was the first to really develop it as a vacation spot for him and his wife Leola Rogers. That time, those who are on mainland Clearwater called it Tate’s Island.
During Tate’s time, the island was only accessible through sailboats and rowboats. Some even swim to go there, as Leola Rogers would claim. Living there was a marvelous idea until a hurricane hit Florida. Leola Rogers was traumatized by the experience and that led them to sell the land for $450 and return to live on mainland Clearwater with friends and relatives.
L.B. Skinner, a businessman, was the lucky one who got the island and developed it as a resort destination just in time when the rest of Clearwater and the Pinellas County was experiencing the resort boom between 1910 and 1920. In 1916, a wooden bridge was finally built attracting more tourists to visit Clearwater Beach.